Russia supports the (Shia) Assad regime backed by Iran and others while Turkey supports the Sunni backed bySaudi Arabia, the USA and others. The Turks claim the Shia are terrorists while Russia supports them as allies of the Shia, (i.e. Assad) who support Russian strategic interests.. This is an oversimplified picture but it is relevant to the shooting down of a Russian fighter. The Turks claims it was in Turkish airspace which the Russians deny. Turkey probably overreacted but it is perfectly possible that Russians were attacking anti-Assad forces within Turkey or strayed over the border in pursuit of such forces. Either way the Russians are going to deny that they were to blame and the Turks are going to say it was all Russia’s fault.
If left to themselves, Russia and Turkey will almost certainly sort it out with much rhetoric and ittle action but the danger is that NATO will get into the act either by itself or at the urging of Turkey. This would not be a good idea. All this does, however, highlight a basic problem in the whole situation. It is not just the bad guys, ISIS, versus the good guys, everyone else. It is a host of conflicting factions and interests which overlap and vary like the bits of a kaleidascope. The more the parties involved insist on a goodies and baddies analysis the less likely it is that a solution will be found.
Everyone has an interest in opposing ISIS but how do you do this? As has been wisely said, ISIS is not an army or a state but an Ideal. Western countries find it hard to accept that local people see the West as the baddies although a brief foray into history might show them why.
This situation is unlikely to lead to wider conflict. US increased training of Ukrainians to “combat Russian aggression” is a greater threat. The behaviour of both Russia and the US takes us back to the Cold War but more accurately should be seen as a contest for influence between two great powers. It has nothing to do with morals or political systems. The common fight against ISIS in particular and terrorism in general creates a bond which puts pressure on all parties to work together at least against ISIS. The question is, what happens next? The Coaition of the Willing opened Pandora’s box. Who will put the lid back on it?
Cavan Hogue is former Australian Ambassador to USSR and Russia.